Forgiveness: A gift for us to share
We met soon after I knew I would be living and serving as a missionary with Global Ministries in the Pentecostal Church of Chile. He and his family hosted me, and his two teenage daughters and I quickly became friends. His comment when we said good-bye after that first visit was, “I can see that God will use you to bring many blessings to our church.” Those were words that inspired and comforted me as I set out to a new life in a country then unknown to me.
What went wrong? Perhaps I will never know for sure, but somewhere in the first few years of service in Chile, our relationship cracked and the rift between us grew. I began to dread the moments when our paths would cross in meetings or church gatherings. Rumors wound their way back to me of his ill-spoken words whenever my name was mentioned in the churches where I was ministering. It all came to a head in a national assembly of pastors. I suppose that most missionaries and pastors have had similar experiences, and perhaps not once but many times; it was the first time for me. I found myself unprepared to face the full-fledged attack of an antagonistic nature. He spoke to the assembly and cut down every program and project that had any connection to me, and then he began to list all of the professional and personal faults he had perceived in my ministry in Chile. After that assembly, he began to hijack the meetings where any of the members of the ministries I was involved were present openly criticizing not only me, but also anyone who had the misfortune of working with me.
What could I do? I prayed, and I sought the wisdom of national leaders and spiritual guides. I analyzed my work going over every decision I made as if under a microscope even to the point of doubting God’s leading. I talked to my supervisors, and I listened to the pain of my co-workers. And I kept going, actively participating in activities and meetings even when it almost became too painful to bear. When one of the ministries I worked with was asked to lead a regional workshop for teachers at his church, the other members of the committee wanted to ask for a change. I said, “No, there must be some reason God has opened the doors for us to be at that particular church. Let’s go!” I went trembling with fear, but we had a wonderful time and were affectionately received by the congregation. My antagonist, the pastor of that congregation, made all of the arrangements and greeted us when we arrived, but then he left.
I didn’t go out of my way to meet up with him, but I didn’t avoid him even though my heart raced and my palms sweated every time I had to greet him with the customary handshake and kiss on the cheek. To refuse to do so in this culture would have been like declaring war against him.
My colleagues accused me of being too hard on my friends and too easy on my enemies, and some recommended that I counter attack or at least seek ways to defend myself when he once again humiliated me in some gathering. I waited and I prayed, and I asked my prayer partners to intercede.
Then the Shalom Center Committee organized a Conflict Transformation workshop, and he, as an influential pastor, was appointed by the Bishop to represent the Directorate. I helped to lead the workshop, and just the thoughts of his presence made my stomach do flip-flops. I kept praying now asking that the workshop might be just the opportunity for the seed of peace to be planted between us.
During the workshop he was an attentive and insightful student. After an assignment where each person was to map his or her conflict history, he sought me out. He explained his map to me telling of childhood abuse, leaving school before graduation to work, menial labor, and struggles just to eat and survive. I listened. I thanked him for sharing his story with me. His eyes filled with tears as he turned away from me and said; “Now maybe you will understand.” At that moment, the fear that had been a cold stone in my heart melted into compassion.
Then it was time again for the national meeting of pastors. Ever since that first open battle five years ago, I had dreaded the assembly. I always asked, “What is going to happen to me this time? What plans does he have to hurt me?”
I stood in a corner after the final worship waiting for a young woman who had sung in the choir, when I saw him striding toward me. I checked my heart. The compassion was still there calming my fear. He hugged me and began to weep. He asked me to forgive him. He said he was sorry for all of the ways that he had hurt me, my ministry, and those who work with me. He said he wanted to be a supporter of my work in Chile.
I had already forgiven him when he had made himself vulnerable to me and had shared his story with me. But now I had the privilege of returning his hug and saying the words, “I forgive you.”
Elena Huegel is a missionary with the Pentecostal Church of Chile (IPC). She serves as an environmental and Christian education specialist.